Mark McCormack: the founding father

Mark McCormack was the first man to view sport through the prism of business. Widely acknowledged as the originator of an industry, McCormack’s IMG company has remained the preeminent agency in sport and has become known as something of a university for young executives looking to forge a career in the field. In this exclusive article, Donald Dell, McCormack’s fellow Yale graduate, the first man to follow in his footsteps, his chief adversary, and his lifelong friend, gives his personal account of the man behind the business.

Mark McCormack: the founding father

Mark McCormack was the first man to view sport through the prism of business. Widely acknowledged as the originator of an industry, McCormack’s IMG company has remained the preeminent agency in sport and has become known as something of a university for young executives looking to forge a career in the field.

In this exclusive article, Donald Dell, McCormack’s fellow Yale graduate, the first man to follow in his footsteps, his chief adversary, and his lifelong friend, gives his personal account of the man behind the business.

Sports Illustrated led their May 1990 issue with the headline ‘Mark McCormack – The Most Powerful Man In Sports’, and few would have disagreed. 23 years have passed since the edition went to print, but Mark’s impact on sports has not diminished. Much of the sporting landscape as we know it – not confined just to the business of sports – was a creation of the pioneer Mark Hume McCormack, the founder of International Management Group (IMG).

Handsome, with messy blonde hair and a winning smile, Mark looked liked a professional golfer, and he came pretty close to being one. He was the number one player at his college, William & Mary, when he often played against the star golfer from rival school Wake Forrest, Arnold Palmer. The pair struck up quite a rapport in their college years, which was to pay dividends for both men down the line.

Mark had graduated from Yale Law School in 1954 and practised law in Cleveland until 1960, when he decided to approach his old friend Arnold about the prospect of managing his business affairs. According to legend, the pair made a deal based on a handshake and Mark turned his new client’s US$4,000 a year clothing contract into a multi-million dollar business. The rest, as they say, is history.

Donald Dell

Mark’s reputation soared on the back of his new client’s commercial success and it wasn’t long before Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus also wanted a piece of the financial pie. And so IMG was born.

At its height, IMG had 2,500 employees in 81 offices in 30 countries. Whether you are a parent trying to manage a household or the chief executive of a multinational company worth US$750 million, delegation is a lesson everyone must learn. But Mark’s unique twist on the lesson was managing delegation. He had a way of saying, “I am delegating a lot of responsibility to you, but that doesn’t mean I am not paying attention.”

Mark was exactly ten years older than me and he had been in golf for exactly ten years before I started ProServ. Before that era, Hollywood stars had long had agents managing their legal, financial and marketing affairs, but the sports field was essentially wide open. So Mark had led the way with golfers and we inadvertently copied the blueprint for tennis players. For Palmer, Nicklaus and Player of IMG, read Arthur Ashe, Stan Smith and Yannick Noah of ProServ.

To continue reading this article, open up the digital version of the November 2013 magazine feature below.